Lemon Tree Writers’ member, Mary Cane chooses:
I cannot be said to have my finger on the pulse of contemporary literature, but I like to be close to veins where interesting life blood might suddenly flow out onto the floor. Take spy mysteries for instance… they have been my constant companions, diverting me away from life’s quotidian domestic drama. I carried James Bond under my school blazer to read in dull physics lessons, before watching The Man from Uncle with my homework. Le Carre kept me company while breast feeding; Jack Reacher, though technically not a spy, has been my best friend though sleepless nights. (I make no apologies because I know Edmund de Waal, with his lovely amber eyes, likes Lee Child too).
I am reliably informed there are two kinds of spy story, martini and stale beer. The one with fast cars, gadgets and martinis is James Bond, and the stale beer sort are stories that lurk in the shadows, where the heroes are flawed, have a wonky moral compass and we are entertained with descriptions of rich, grimy, cultural filth. Such a series has just come to my notice and is by Mick Herron. The first is ‘Slow Horses’, and I hear it is being filmed now. It is about M15 London. ‘Slow’ is a riff with Slough, the town John Betjeman thought we could do without; the horses are the ne’er do well spies that have been put out to grass because of bad spy behaviour. Of course, the stale beer hero, Jackson Lamb, turns out to be the one who solves the mystery, even though he eats greasy takeaways, takes chances, and scratches his hairy belly through a gap where his shirt is missing a button. I am offering you the chance to read these delights before a film takes away their charm. Oh yes, the thing I wanted to say was they are very nicely written, and Jackson Lamb with his missing shirt button, is my new bedtime companion.
Lemon Tree Writers’ member, Roger Meachem chooses:
I discovered John Irvine in the mid 80’s when I read ‘Cider House Rules’. I went on to read a half dozen more of his books, but have kept Cider House Rules as one of a small library of Fire-Books: – books I will strive to rescue from my house should it catch fire. Why this book rather than his Owen Meany, or Hotel New Hampshire? To tell the truth, not being a book critic it’s hard to say, but I know that when I think of Cider House Rules so many of the characters are memorable. This book is full of distinct and memorable people. Mary Agnes, a girl you wouldn’t wish to cross, who destroys a building when she’s annoyed. In one of the sub plots we follow Mary who is searching for Homer Wells – the book’s main character – and who Mary believes has jilted her! Dr Larch runs the orphanage but also, and illegally, helps women who need abortions. Candy is a girl who has everything, but also has two men who love her deeply – Homer and his best frend Wally the son of the owner of a commercial Apple Orchard. There’s Mr Rose, who manages an apple-picking team and is the book’s male equivalent of Mary Agnes. All this is set in Maine, beginning in the backwoods orphanage and continuing into the coastal orchards. In this book you’ll find stark tragedy and the most romantic love, but all set within Irvine’s world – and John Irvine creates a grimly mocking world spiced with some grisly humour.
One example: We follow Homer from his birth. Before he’s ten-years-old he is failed by several prospective families. It’s what happens (fatally) to the final couple that decides Dr Larch that perhaps The Maine population might be safer if Homer stays in the orphanage.
If I had to choose just one reason why I love Cider House Rules? There are pages in the book where I have to stop reading and leave the book lying for an hour or more. It’s just too moving to be read quickly.